DESIGN AS A BRIDGE - ZUS AO - LUCHTSINGEL
Design is a bridge, connecting people and stuff, and doing away with their problems. De Luchtsingel, a giant new footbridge designed by Dutch ZUS architects up north of the Rotterdam city center, as a backbone to a neighborhood renovation, was a perfect example of this, not in the least because it was crowdfunded. Anyone buying one of the bridge's planks could have their names or a message inscribed.
ZUS : Zones Urbaines Sensibles
After World War II, a heavily bombarded and destroyed Rotterdam remade its city center with larger-than-life modernist principles in mind, installing big works of infrastructure that were lined with big buildings. It all went at the expense of the urban fabric, says Emma Van Boxel, next to Kristian Koreman one of the principals of ZUS (short for Zones Urbaines Sensibles), a local studio that has specialized in public space. Despite all the efforts, the northern districts remained kind of cut of from the city center. With the new millenium, officials revealed new plans, but it was clear that it would take three more decennia to fully complete them.
Zus proposed a system based on public walkways
He planned canal promenades as a way of structuring the city
ZUS, having been active in the area for more than a decade, tried to find ways to do things differently. One of its sources of inspiration was a 1854 plan in which the city architect Rose proposed a system based on public walkways. “He planned canal promenades as a way of structuring the city,” says Koreman. More inspiration also came from the High Line, the famous heightened city park on a deserted train track in New York. The combination of both ideas led to the proposal to build a raised promenade as a contemporary alternative for Rose’s canal walkways, a stopgap solution until the government could step in and build something more permanent. Dubbed the Luchtsingel or Air Canal, the bridge would act as the backbone of a whole series of projects that would connect and rejuvenate the different parts of the fragmented neighborhood, and knit the areas back together, while allowing people to avoid the hectic traffic below as much as possible.
With no public money available, ZUS decided that the neighborhood should not wait any longer. It started a campaign to have the sky bridge funded through crowd-sourcing over the internet, with thousands of small donations – a solution that had the added advantage that Improvement in the area would no longer be fully dependent on real estate developments. Just €25 would buy one of the 17,000 planks that would span the 390 m bridge.
Each donor would be entitled to have a message inscribed on one plank, advertising a business, conveying a message to a loved one, making a wish, or simply stating the donor’s name.
Reactions were overwhelming. Launched in October 2011, the campaign raised almost €100,000 in three months. That same year the Rotterdam City Council organised a city initiative, or Stadsinitiatief, an administrative instrument for public participation to encourage reform. Inhabitants of Rotterdam were asked to present projects for the revitalisation of the city. Luchtsingel was selected as the winning project by 48% of the voting citizens, and received 4 million euros of prize money for its implementation.
Because of its length and its complex structure, the bridge was built and assembled in segments. A first of six phases was realized in 2012. A last part was added two years later. The official opening followed August 20th of 2015. Yet the project is more that just the bridge. Part of the prize money was also put into the development of public spaces which it would connect – going from a Biergarten to a DakAkker or Rooftop Garden on top of the Schieblock, the first harvestable garden in the Netherlands and a space for experimentation.
Although the bridge also brought a lot of attention, its significance for its immediate surroundings and the city was from the very beginning the subject of continuing debate . Besides positive reactions there were critical questions about the safety, cost and transparency of the project. The bridge was built to hold for at least 15 years. Yet last year ZUS sent a letter of alarm to the city council, complaining about the neglect and rapid decay of the project, and also put an end to its contract as a city counsellor, after it was accused of conflicts of interest by the same politicians which it suspected to be in cahoots with real estate investors. A large part of the bridge was torn down, with the promise that it would be reconstructed, because of other renovation works. As Koreman said, when he launched the project: “A city is in constant transformation, so the only thing permanent is temporariness”. (mb)